The allegory of the hospital

Sylvanus, a professional programmer, has gotten into a car crash, with disastrous results: he’s paralyzed from the wrists down, and won’t be able to use a keyboard or mouse for six weeks while his hands heal. He has to take time off from his job, and worse, he has to take a break from his obsessive hobby of reading dozens of online news articles a day. He loves to stay up-to-date about current events, but no keyboard and no mouse means no surfing the internet, and the staff at the hospital are to busy to keep him in the loop.

Luckily, Sylvanus has a brilliant imagination, and since he’s on a break from life he has plenty of time to think. He lies in the hospital bed all day, relaxing his mind and sending probing thoughts out into the world, like a golfer putting a finger up in the air in order to check the direction of the wind. It isn’t long before he starts getting inklings about the outside world. They’re weak and vague at first, but they get stronger and clearer with each passing day of practice. He asks a nurse for a tape recorder, which he operates by pressing the buttons with his limp knuckles and which he uses to make spoken notes about the messages he receives.

After a few weeks of thinking and recording, he decides it’s time to review his notes. The process is challenging, since the messages are often incoherent or contradictory, but he feels up to the task, and before long he’s pretty sure he knows what he’s missed in world news since the accident.

The next day he gets a visit from his co-worker Daniella. She knows he’s a news junkie, and she offers to fill him in, but he decides to try to impress her. He explains his listening process, tells her what tweaks it needed to work more reliably, lets her listen to some of his notes, and then says:

“So, I think I already know what the news is. I’ll bet you five bucks I’ve got it right.”

“Huh,” she says. “Okay, deal. Start talking.”

He tells her what he came up with. Their country’s top official died of the flu three days after the accident, and was replaced by their second-in-command, as per the country’s founding document. But the second-in-command was incompetent and hugely unpopular, and was assassinated six days later. Everyone expected another high-ranking official to take their place, but a loophole was discovered stipulating that, in light of some specific details of the assassination, a general election should be held instead. All the major political parties raced to find suitable candidates, and…

“Okay, stop,” says Daniella. “Not sure where this is coming from, but it’s way off the mark. Nothing like that happened. You owe me five bucks.”

Sylvanus slumps in his bed, obviously disappointed.

“Why did you even offer that bet?” she asks. “Surely you know telepathy doesn’t work?”

But Sylvanus glares at her, and snaps “Well, I had nothing else to go on!”

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